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Secrecy Is White House's Obsession

Allowing Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly under oath before the 9/11 commission should have been an easy call for President Bush. Instead, his latest reversal came as a result of intense public and political pressure, and it underscores this administration's "obsession with secrecy" and illustrates the White House's "disregard for the public's right to know," a Los Angeles Times editorial said. Also, the Times asserts that since 9/11 the Bush administration has strained "credulity and democracy by insisting ... that citizens have no right to learn whether their tires on their cars could explode or what this administration did with information it had on terror threats."

Posted 04-02-2004 10:33 AM EDT

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White House Declassifies to Serve Political Needs

The Bush administration's penchant for secrecy is maddening, but worse still is the inconsistent decision-making regarding the declassification of documents. "What we're learning is that classification is a political tool," Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy told The Washington Post. "It can be used to advance or retard a particular agenda. The CIA, for example, is reviewing for declassification last year's testimony of former White House counterterrorism official Richard Clark after he told the panel investigating 9/11 last week that the Bush administration ignored the terrorism threat prior to the 2001 attacks.

Posted 04-02-2004 9:58 AM EDT

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Rice to Testify Publicly Before 9/11 Panel

In the face of mounting pressure, the White House has reversed course and will allow national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify before the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, CNN reported. Rice said she resisted calls to testify in public as a matter of principle. In public testimony, former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke has charged that the Bush administration didn't do enough to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney also will meet privately with the commission.

The White House had argued that allowing a presidential adviser, such as Rice, to testify before a congressionally created body would set new precedent and violate the executive privilege doctrine.

Posted 03-30-2004 12:02 PM EDT

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Nuke Agency Withholds Unclassified Information

Critics argue that U.S. nuclear power plants and weapons facilities should be able to fend off an attack from as many as 19 assailants in four squads. After 9/11, the Bush administration updated a much weaker 1980s-era security standard, but the attack scenario still involves considerably fewer attackers. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is keeping the new standard secret. What's frustrating watchdog groups now is that the agency is also withholding information about a nuclear power company's unclassified request for a waiver of security requirements, The Washington Post reported.

It's just the latest example of how the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy -- of even unclassified information -- is squelching public debate about security matters. The Bush administration's cloak and dagger policymaking has made it nearly impossible to hold government officials accountable for their decisions.

Posted 03-29-2004 1:40 PM EDT

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Former Official Admits Giving Order to Withhold Medicare Data

Thomas Scully, former administrator of the Medicare program, confirmed to The New York Times that he ordered the program's chief actuary, Richard Foster, to withhold information from Congress about how much the new Medicare law would cost; however, Scully said he did not threaten to fire Foster if he did not follow the directive. Last week, Foster gave lawmakers documents showing that federal payments to private health insurance plans under the new Medicare law could cost more than triple what Congress assumed when it passed the bill last year. Lawmakers had requested the cost estimate several months before the bill passed, but Foster said Scully threatened to fire him if he handed over the data.

White House spokesman Thomas Duffy said no one instructed either Scully or Foster to keep information from Congress. But Duffy admitted that White House officials were aware of Foster's cost estimates while the bill was being debated. Lawmakers, including Republicans, have been critical of the Bush administration for keeping the information secret.

Posted 03-23-2004 6:09 PM EDT

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Evidence Supports Medicare Actuary's Claims

Since Medicare chief actuary Richard Foster broke his silence about being warned not to reveal his higher price tag for the prescription drug benefit bill, new evidence has surfaced to supports his claim. A House Democratic health policy aide received a fax dated June 11, 2003, that pegged the cost of the legislation at $551.5 billion over 10 years, The New York Times reported. The aide, Cybele Bjorkland, said she doesn't know who sent the fax, but she had been trying to obtain Foster's estimate, which was substantially higher than $400 billion Congress had figured. Foster refused to give up his numbers and said he could be fired if he did so, Bjorkland said. She confronted Foster's boss, Thomas Scully, who told her, "I'll fire him so fast his head will spin," if Foster gave her what she wanted, Bjorkland recounted to the Times.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) printed a copy of an e-mail to Foster that warned he could be "accused of insubordination" if he shared information with Congress about the legislation without authorization from his politically appointed bosses.

Posted 03-18-2004 5:51 PM EDT

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War on Terror Trumps Public Access

Since 9/11, the Bush administration has expanded the number of officials who can hide records from public view, part of what experts are calling the most expansive assault on open government in the nation's history, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The newspaper also cited several examples of government secrecy that appear to be outside the scope of national security, including the Federal Aviation Administration's removal from the Internet of records involving enforcement actions taken against airlines, pilots and mechanics.

The White House has used the Sept. 11 attacks "as an excuse to close the doors of government," Rick Blum of OMB Watch, a nonprofit group that monitors government regulatory activity, told the Journal-Constitution. And corporations are following the Bush administration's lead, trying to shield potentially embarrassing information from the public, he said.

Posted 03-16-2004 1:27 PM EDT

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Official Told to Withhold Medicare Costs

Bush administration officials threatened to fire a chief analyst of Medicare costs last year if he told lawmakers that the prescription drug bill favored by the White House would be more expensive than Congress was led to believe, The Washington Post reported. Richard Foster, a nonpartisan Department of Health and Human Services official who has served as Medicare's chief actuary for nine years, told the Post he nearly resigned in protest because he thought the White House was harming the public interest by keeping cost information secret. "Certainly, Congress did not have all the information they might have wanted, or that we had," Foster said.

Then-HHS Administrator Thomas Scully told Foster last spring and summer that he would be fired if he complied with requests from Republican and Democratic lawmakers to provide them with cost estimates related to the prescription drug benefit bill, Foster said. Congressional Democrats have called for an ethics investigation.

Posted 03-15-2004 6:04 PM EDT

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Bush May Allow Longer 9/11 Interview

The White House said President Bush would submit to questioning by the commission investigating 9/11 for more than the hour he earlier agreed to, Reuters reported. Although the interview is only scheduled to last one hour, "the president of course is going to answer all the questions they want to raise," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. Bush was criticized for refusing to submit to more than an hour of questioning, especially after his campaign used 9/11 images in TV ads.

After recently obtaining a requested two-month extension, the commission is due to complete its inquiry in July.

Posted 03-15-2004 4:41 PM EDT

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Government Will Keep Key Industry Data Secret

Government officials have cut a deal with businesses: Tell us where you're vulnerable and we'll keep it under Uncle Sam's hat. Starting tomorrow, companies critical to the nation's infrastructure, such as chemical companies, electric utilities and railroads, can send the Department of Homeland Security information about their vulnerabilities to terrorism without fear that it will be disclosed publicly, The Washington Post reported. The Homeland Security Act gives the department authority to keep data voluntarily provided by businesses secret.

Some environmental and open-records advocates are concerned that corporations will use the rules to evade federal enforcement of health and safety rules, the Post said. "It's naive to think that we won't have bad actors in industry" who take advantage of the protections, Sean Moulton of OMB Watch, a nonprofit group that monitors government regulatory activity, told the Post.

Posted 02-19-2004 11:19 AM EDT

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